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Your Pills Are Spying on You

How smart pills and surveillance capitalism threaten the civil rights of people with mental illness.

There’s a new psychiatric medication on the market called Abilify MyCite. On its own, the drug Abilify is a partial dopamine agonist that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2013 as an anti-psychotic medication. It’s generally prescribed to people with conditions such as such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, though questions remain about its effectiveness and the severity of its side effects. The “MyCite” pill, approved just last year, does something new. It contains a digital sensor that tracks whether a patient has ingested the drug, then shares that information with doctors, family, or whoever is programmed to receive it.

The use of Web technology to track medication has been emerging over the past decade or so. The technology has arrived with the usual benefits and risks of the Internet of Things: timely reminders, cool gadgets, vulnerability to hacking, loss of control over one’s data, state surveillance. When it comes to a pill like MyCite, America’s history of coercive psychiatric medication intensifies the risks. If the medical technology is simply used to help people remember to voluntarily take their pills, so much the better. Alas, that’s unlikely to be the case. People with psychiatric disabilities, especially poor and otherwise vulnerable people, are too often forced to choose between mandatory compliance and basic freedom. MyCite makes it easier to demand that people surrender their privacy in order to conform to some artificial idea of normal.

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